Mayor Chaz Molder has been leading Columbia since 2018, beating out the city’s former two-term incumbent. The father of three talks with us about the challenges COVID-19 presented during his first term, in a personal and professional aspect, and what is in store for the future.
WS: Now that we are post quarantine and mandates, reflecting over the past year and a half of COVID-19 and its effects, what do you believe are the greatest strengths of Columbia?
Mayor Molder: Columbia was fortunate in that it was well positioned to withstand the various economic setbacks brought on by the COVID 19 pandemic. Our community is experiencing unprecedented growth thanks, in large part, to our location within the greater Nashville area, and also the fact that we serve as a regional hub for the southern middle TN region. Many of our local businesses were able to quickly adapt to the new challenges brought on by COVID and, in many cases, our small businesses emerged from COVID in a stronger, better position than they were prior to COVID. I am convinced the same is true with Columbia as a whole.
WS: As a father, what was the biggest struggle you faced during quarantine?
Mayor Molder: My wife and I tested positive for COVID on July 16, 2020. This was a major challenge for us because we had to quarantine with our kids, not knowing if we were transmitting to them and, if so, how they would handle it. Coupled with the fact that for about 3 days during our COVID diagnosis, we were both in pretty rough shape. But, what we learned about our kids during our own COVID experience, and throughout quarantine, is what we learned about most kids their age—kids are strong, they are resilient, and they are brave. They will be stronger throughout their lives for what they experienced in the year 2020.
WS: Columbia is a quickly growing town, what is your hope for the city as its population and economy continue to grow?
Mayor Molder: Columbia is unique in that it is located both in the Nashville MSA, one of the fastest growing MSAs in the country, but it is also a regional hub for about 6-8 counties in southern middle TN—not many communities are in both. My hope is that we retain our community charm, but also recognize that we are not going to be able to stop the growth, and in many cases, we should not want to stop it—we should embrace it. That way, the growth is welcome and our new residents and long time residents can unite and grow this community together in a positive way.
WS: Columbia also has a large population of small businesses, how was it to see them struggle during the pandemic and how do they seem to be faring now?
Mayor Molder: One of Columbia’s biggest strengths is that we have a large number of small businesses. COVID was certainly a challenge and a strain for these small businesses. But, what we found is that the small businesses who were able to be creative, think outside of the box, utilize social media and other outlets, were the ones who were not just able to survive during COVID but in some cases, do better during COVID than they were doing prior to the onset—and are now doing even better than they were before. There is no doubt that COVID was a challenge and in some cases, certain small businesses were not able to withstand. But, those that did I believe came back stronger than before. And, this is one of the silver linings of COVID—seeing our small businesses unite as a business community and do what they could to create normalcy not just for their businesses and livelihood, but for our community as a whole.
WS: I see you received your law degree from the University of Memphis. I too attended school at the University of Memphis. That being said, what is your opinion of barbeque in Memphis compared to barbeque in Columbia?
Mayor Molder: If you think I am going to answer that question, think again!
WS: Columbia just held its first PRIDE celebration, how was it to see the community come together to celebrate love and freedom after enduring a pandemic. Did it give you hope for a return to “normal” in the future?
Mayor Molder: What I love about our community is that we are a diverse community. We are a small city, 40k population, but we have a mighty spirit. Our people are unique. We have many different opinions and outlooks, but we are united in our love and appreciation for our community. The PRIDE festival was a resounding success bringing folks together from all walks of life. I think this showed that our community embraces everyone, no matter who or no matter what.